The 'Great Reads' Genre
Which came first--the novel or its genre? Bookstores generally have sections labeled mystery, science fiction, romance and fiction. Any number of theories and controversies exist regarding what gets shelved where. I was a bookseller and had many such "discussions."
My favorite genre, however, is "great reads." You find them in every category. This summer I devoured a galley of David Bajo's Mercy 6, released this week in paperback by Unbridled Books. Early reviews and publicity experimented with labels (medical thriller, literary thriller, literary medical thriller, suspense fiction, medical fiction, speculative medical thriller), as if uncertain how to categorize it. I considered that a promising sign.
In the novel, emergency room physician Dr. Anna Mendenhall faces a crisis--four people have died simultaneously in different parts of the hospital. Is it a contagion? She doesn't think so, but institutional reaction is sudden and shocking. The facility is sealed, information restricted and government troops assemble outside. Then more deaths occur.
Bajo's story and characters are intriguing, his writing sharply observant ("She liked vague. That's where science often lurked." Or: "Her mentor had taught her to examine and divide her emotions, especially the surface ones. It was important to learn this in the ER..."). Dr. Mendenhall is intense and professional and smart ("I hate metaphor," she said. "Metaphors kill. Life is actual. Death is metaphor."). And she is very good at her job.
Mercy 6 is a great read, the only label it needs. Booksellers sometimes "double-shelve" certain books or authors for maximum exposure--Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music (sci-fi and fiction) or the works of Robert Harris and Alan Furst (mystery and fiction). Jill Hendrix, owner of Fiction Addiction, Greenville, S.C., used a "Trust Fall" promotion earlier this year to attract sci-fi-shy readers to Andy Weir's The Martian, and it worked.
None of this is about "transcending genre," a phrase that makes me cringe. It's about finding readers. So look for David Bajo's Mercy 6 in the great reads section. --Robert Gray, contributing editor